A cyber army in formation at South Korea’s hacker school

Many countries around the world are making large investments in cyber warfare from both an offensive and a defensive perspective. This is particularly true in emerging markets where finding parity in kinetic strength –- tanks, submarines, ICBMs etc. -- doesn’t seem tenable, but where cyber can act as a great equalizer. South Korea is one such example.

In my last blog I wrote about my trip to Brazil. In a grueling two-week tour, my following week took me directly from Brazil to Seoul, South Korea. Besides switching from tropical to frigid temperatures, and from Brazilian BBQ to Korean BBQ, there was much that was the same.

Like many emerging countries, South Korea is searching for ways to become a more critical player globally. It is one of the most highly Internet-connected countries in the world. It has cutting edge hi-tech and manufacturing industries, and it has an incredibly strong educational system. All of this juxtaposed with its proximity to North Korea has resulted in South Korea making heavy investments in cyber as a domain of warfare inline with land, air, sea and space.

Much of my visit was spent at the Korea Information Technology Research Institute (KITRI) within their "Best of the Best" program. I'm pictured with these students and some of the faculty leaders in the photo. I had just given a presentation on Information Warfare. In doing so, I joined a long, international list of guest speakers that they frequently introduce so students can expand their global perspectives surrounding information security. This institute is designed to develop computer experts from within South Korea to be able to mitigate cyber attacks both foreign and domestic. As such, they spare no expense to ensure that the technology, training, and instructors are state-of-the-art.

The elite school has thousands of applicants from high school through college but they only accept a handful based on a series of examinations and exercises related to hacking and information security. There are six areas of study for the students and each area will have one top candidate who will then be recommended to work for specific corporations or government organizations. These six areas include:

  • Digital forensics
  • Security consulting
  • Vulnerability analysis
  • Mobile phone security
  • Converged security
  • Cloud computing security

Through various hacking competitions and focused study these students become the security ninjas in such high demand globally. I'm looking forward to seeing how this program continues to expand, as this is only their second year of operation. Also, it will be interesting to contrast it with other such groups around the world including those in countries like the United States.

I'm curious to know if anyone else has had experience with these types of hacker schools.

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